Some Thoughts on Giving, and Listening to, Speeches

A new member of the UK Parliament once gave his speech at a banquet which Winston Churchill also attended. Afterwards, the MP asked Churchill what the great one thought of the speech. Churchillís reply was, "First, you read the speech. Second, you read it badly. Third, the speech wasnít worth reading."

I once introduced a luncheon speaker who was a local politician. He started reading his speech without realizing that page 5 of the 6 page speech was missing. When he got to the end of page 4 and flipped to the next page, he then realized that it was page 6. He muttered something incoherent, but then just kept right on reading from the top of page 6 and finished the speech a short while later. The audience noticed nothing was amiss, and the speaker got his applause and thanks. So much for the value of page 5 in his speech.


The shorter the speech, the greater the need for preparation. And the most difficult form of preparation is to rehearse the speech from beginning to end, in front of even an imaginary audience.

"The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do." - Thomas Jefferson, third President of the United States.

To give a short speech of 15 to 20 minutes requires more thought in thinking through clearly what it is that the speaker wants to say, how to say it, how to tell the audience what it should have heard, and finally, how to prepart to say it. In a short speech, the speaker should limit the points he wishes to makie to just a few key points, present those with concise arguments and evidence, and conclude with just a few key conclusions.

"I'm going to give a long speech today.  I haven't had time to prepare a short one." - Sir Winston Churchill

While some speakers prepare by having the speech written out, and then expect to just read the speech, he should, at a minimum, prepare by reading aloud the written speech. He will find that what may appear all right when read in silence, often sounds unwieldy, complex, or convoluted when read aloud. I find no good substitute for doing a full rehearsal of the speech, starting with walking up to a make-believe lectern, and ending with a "Thank you for your attention today." You will find that the last rehearsal bears no resemblance to the first rehearsal. The thought sequence, the words, humour, gestures, accents and emphases, the beginning and ending will all be different and usually vastly improved, along with corresponding increases in oneís confidence in giving the speech.

On Use of Visuals

Unless the speechís subject is graphic in nature, I find that many speakers use visuals when none are really necessary, or appropriate. In a short speech, the best way to keep an audienceís attention is to use no visuals, thereby forcing the audience to focus its attention solely onto the speakerís words.

A short speech affords no time to present complicated statistics; it far more effective to tell the audience that you have done the analysis, and the conclusion you draw is thisÖ.just present your conclusions.  Do not fall into the habit of throwing up a chart by thinking that it complements your speech. Usually it does not, and this is merely a sign that the speech lacks clarity, cohesion, organization, and good thought and good words.


Now I turn to a subject that many readers may interpret to be sexist. But in this case, TITS stands for "Think In ThreeS". The normal human mind can most readily grasp concepts, thoughts, facts, etc., when these are presented to it in groups of threes. For example, many thoughts and icons are grouped in threes:-

Do Your ABCís....As easy as 1, 2, 3....Do no evil, hear no evil, see no evil....
3 dimensional....3 wise men....IBM, MBA, SFC, SEC, DHL, NFL, NBA....

In a short or even long speech, use the concept of TITS to build your speech ó make 3 main points, use 3 arguments or reasons, give 3 examples, tell the audience to remember 3 conclusion, and by doing so, the audience may remember you as one of the top 3 speakers that it has heard.

And to Conclude....

We started this article with a UK Parliamentarian, and we end with a quote from Lord Mancroft, also a Parliamentarian some decades earlier. He said, "A speech is like a love affair. Any fool can start it, but to end it requires considerable skill."

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